Sinners Anonymous

Hi.  I’m Matthew.  And I’m a sinner.

A part of what happens at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is that the speaker says “Hi,” and introduces him- or herself by name, and then concludes by saying “And I’m an alcoholic.”

It’s an honest confession.  You usually can’t pick an alcoholic out of a crowd.  It’s a terrible and oft hidden disease.  These are every-day folks.  The one thing they all have in common is that they admit their lives are being gut-wrenchingly crushed by alcohol.  Ruining.  Themselves, those they love.  There’s nothing they can do about it on their own.  They need the other people struggling with it and, most of all, their “Higher Power.”

When they start, most don’t want to attend–it’s tough walking through the door.  I’m told that most are looking for reasons to justify not going.  It’s a “culture shock.”

Meetings can end with either the Serenity Prayer, the one that goes: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference,” or with the Lord’s Prayer, which includes the words “and lead us not into temptation.”

There’s no judgment.  It’s a people-in-need–people who know that alcohol is ruining everything.

It’s a very good description of the church, actually.  But the crushing factor is not alcohol, but sin.

Ooooh.  We don’t like that word very much, do we?  Makes us think of some fiery preacher pounding a pulpit.  And yet, sin is ruining our lives and the lives of those we love, and there is nothing—absolutely nothing—we can do about it on our own.  We need each other, and most of all, the Lord—our “Higher Power.”

Welcome to church.  Welcome to Sinners Anonymous.

When I first arrived at Westminster I asked someone why they came to church.  They did a mental head scratch for about 5 seconds and then said quite brilliantly, “Because I can’t do it on my own.”

Sin isn’t an easy topic.  We’re in near-total denial.  It’s a nasty thought in an age of pseudo-positivity.  Has anyone ever called you a “sinner”?  If so, they were most likely being a jerk.  But they were also right.  It’s just that they probably didn’t realise that they were one too!

But why do we have this phobia to admitting that real, inescapable sin exists, and that we are addicts?

Because we’ve fooled ourselves.  For the faithful among us, we’ve often painted a picture of faith as a rose-petal covered road of near-perfect piety.  As if sin discounts us from being faithful!  Are we that naïve?  John Leith wrote that sin is the only Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable!

Many of us think of sins as “things we do that are bad,” anywhere from tossing a pop can into the garbage instead of the recycling, to cutting someone off on the 400 and making a gesture, to the five-fingered-discount, to cheating on a spouse, to blaspheming God’s name.  But more than that it’s a condition of the DNA: a who-we-are-disease that has us in its grips.  Being me-centred instead of He-centred.

Sin is carving out a life for ourselves apart from God; in short, trying to go it alone.  And it’s in us all somewhere to various degrees.

So if I stopped here, this would be a very depressing blog entry!

Is your circle of friends or congregation the kind of place you might encounter at an A.A. meeting?  Or, rather, this S.A. (Sinners Anonymous)meeting?  A place where honest I’m-toast-without-God confession is made?  A place where there is no judgement?  No, ‘I’m better than you are’?—but simply a intimacy of people in need; who crave something else; who know more than anyone else that something—sin—is ruining everything?  I know we are hesitant to use that word.  Perhaps we use something else.  But we all know the big things are invisible, right?

Christian psychiatrist M. Scott Peck says that A.A. teaches people “not only why to go through the desert toward God but also a great deal about how to go forward through the desert.”  Sounds like church to me.  Other jewels of A.A. wisdom help like “One day at a time” and “The only person you can change is yourself.”  The same is true for Christianity.  It requires daily self-conversion and self-transformation.  It’s not about perfection; it’s about honesty.

I’ve come up with a new way of thinking about being a Christian.  I call it “Taking your MEDS.”  M stands for the Moment you realize something is wrong.  With your life and life in general.  E stands for End the lies—especially the lie that you can go it alone and are self-sufficient and good without reference to the One who made and can save you.  D stands for a Decision to entrust your life to the Lord Jesus.  And S stands for Start.  Start the new life.  Seek out some believers (fellow sinners-in-need) to find out how.  Some say an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  But isn’t the apple how it all got messed up in the first place?!  Rather, “take your MEDS.”

Hi.  I’m Matthew.  And I’m a sinner.

In the Apostles’ Creed there is a line: “I believe… in the forgiveness of sins.”  Let us hold onto those words like water in the middle of the Sahara.  If our sin is not just skin deep, but soul deep, forgiveness is very treasured.  It is not a cheap “Made in China” variety you pick up at the dollar store.  Someone had to die to pay the price, the cost for your sin, to get you out of the hole.  And he did.

So what now?  Take your MEDS.  And get to a S.A. meeting near you.


  1. though it seems it is old-fashioned to refer to SIN as such, it somehow puts the condition into bold relief for me to have this spade called “a spade”.


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